Several Texoma museums are hesitant to open their doors just yet, following the COVID-19 health crisis.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled the first phase of plans to reopen many Texas businesses and other facilities in a limited capacity. This first phase, which is expected to begin on Friday, will allow non-interactive museums and libraries to operate with up to 25 percent capacity.
Despite clearance from the state level, representatives for several Texoma museums said that they plan to wait before reopening their doors to the public.
“I think in our case, we feel most comfortable staying closed a little longer, because we are more of a hands on museum,” said Bill Collins, representing the Sherman Jazz Museum. “People come in, touch the record albums, pick them up and because of that I think we are more concerned with the safety of everybody.”
For the past decade, the museum has brought the history of jazz music to downtown Sherman each weekend. However, the museum has remained closed to the public since state-wide stay-at-home orders were put in place in mid-March, Collins said.
In the lead up to the order, Collins said the museum saw average crowds, but he noted that many visitors come from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which has seen significant infection numbers.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t get a whole lot of people — We are only open on Saturdays and every week is different,” Collins said. “We get a lot of people from out of town when we get people.”
The museum had originally planned to have a jazz classic event this spring, but the event was put on hold after the guest artist from Japan canceled.
“He was the first one who tipped me off that there was something going on,” Collins said. “He said that Japan had shut down all of their schools in February and he was afraid to come here because he was afraid he might not be able to get back.”
Collins said the primary fear he has in reopening is the health and safety of his staff, which is mostly family members.
“My wife and I both have underlying conditions,” he said. “We are both in our upper 60s and we are really concerned about our own safety.”
Despite the closure, Collins said he has been able to make the most of this downtime by working on other projects within the museum. Currently, he is working on remodeling the first floor of the museum to create more space for exhibits.
“It is actually a good time to get things done,” he said. “We’ve been able to go up there some with mostly family members ... and we can get a lot done up there, organizing and doing things that we otherwise wouldn’t have time.”
Collins noted that he likely doesn’t speak for all museums and could be the minority. The Jazz Museum does not charge entry fees, and it does not face any possible loss of income at this time.
“I would think that a museum that relies on admission would be more interested in opening for survival purposes,” he said.
“I worry for small museums all over the country because a lot of them get their funding from sales tax, hotel occupancy, and things like that and finally ticket sale tax,” he said. “They are getting hit doubly hard.”
Like the Jazz Museum, the Sherman Museum has no plans to open its doors immediately on Friday. At the earliest, the museum could open its doors by mid-May or later in the month just in time for the annual Dino Days exhibit.
“Ours is fairly non-interactive,” said Dylan White, representing the museum. “We do have activities or touch stations for the kids, so that kind of poses an issue. If we were to open with the guidelines that were mentioned ... the interactive parts would probably be closed for the time being just because we are having problems finding cleaning supplies.”
Despite early funding fears last year, representatives for museum said it has been able to weather the storm during COVID-19.
In September, the city council approved $50,000 of funding for the museum — down about $20,000 from 2018. In remaining $20,000 would only be offered if the museum could match this with funds it raised elsewhere.
However, the museum was able to raise the majority of these funds before the crisis hit, organizers said.
“It is going well, all things considered,” White said. “We are still looking at other fundraising means, or other fundraising activities we can do in the time we have left to raise that last little bit we need to get to the end.”
During the closure, White said the museum has gone down to three workers, who have reduced their hours. However, the skeleton crew is making the best of their time by conducting a deep cleaning and taking inventory of the museum’s exhibits.
“What we’ve been doing, for our own sake, for better record keeping and research purposes, is doing an inventory. As the years past, it just adds to how long an inventory is going to take.”
Like the Jazz and Sherman Museums, the Sam Rayburn Museum in Bonham is also setting plans to open — but not immediately.
“The easy answer is we are making plans to open at some point,” said Dan Carleton, Executive Director of the Briscoe Center for American History, which manages the museum.
Carleton said it would be too early for the museum to open its doors on Friday, as staff are still working on plans on how to safely operate during the pandemic.
“The number one thing is to protect the staff and anyone who visits the museum,” he said, noting that the museum has some interactive elements and stations.
Despite area museums remaining closed, many state-managed historic sites could open to the public again this week.
Chris Florance, communications director for the Texas Historical Commission, said the organization is assessing which sites would be safe to open. This could include both the Sam Rayburn House and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Birthplace, he said.
“We are working on our plan,” he said. “We are under the expectation that we will open many sites on Friday, but we are still gathering information from the site managers about their staff, the crowds that they were seeing before all this happened and supplies.”
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.